Khadaji’s Whatcha Reading Thread - June 2021 edition

Finished The Smartest Kids in the World: and How They Got That Way , by Amanda Ripley, which was okay.

Now I’m reading Aristoi, by Walter Jon Williams.

The Man from Beijing Henning Mankell Not a Wallander book, but similar in structure and style. A group of elderly people in a small Swedish village is murdered, and Brigitta Nilson, a judge, is related to some of the victims. So she sets to investigate, and finds strange connections to American history and the People’s Republic of China.

I really enjoyed the Wallander books, but this one (especially the parts set in China), is rather lifeless.

I’m about halfway through two books right now, both of which are decent but not great.

One is Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker. The stories are interesting, but where this book falls short is with the actual math. I can’t decide if the author made this too accessible or not accessible enough. In many cases, the descriptions of the actual math behind what went wrong is too brief, and I can’t tell if that’s because (a) the math isn’t really the point, and the author is trying to stick to the stories of disaster, or (b) the author assumes the reader has a working knowledge of things like physics and binary code, and I’m just less intelligent than the target audience.

The other book is The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams. The book is beautifully written, but I feel at a remove from all the characters in the book. As a result, when I step away, I don’t find myself particularly eager to get back to the book. I’m not engrossed in the plot or attached to the characters. But every time I do pick up the book, I do feel an urge to keep turning the pages because the writing is so lovely.

Finished Aristoi , by Walter Jon Williams. Meh. SF Gary Stu vs. a boring Big Bad. It would’ve been much better if it had focused on his relationship with his mother. He’s worshiped as a god, and his mother is basically his chief prophet. That part is funny.

Now I’m reading Summer at Tiffany, by Marjorie Hart. It’s a memoir about working at that store in 1945.

Henning Mankell was one of my favorite authors. I loved the Wallander books and there was a tremendous tv show doing the adaptations in Sweden which if you haven’t already seen I recommend. You can find English subtitles pretty easily.

Wallander nailed the depressing anti-hero vibe of crime fiction writing.

Finished Summer at Tiffany , by Marjorie Hart. It’s a memoir about working at that store in 1945. It was okay, but I wished it had talked more about the store.

Now I’m reading Jonah’s Gourd Vine, by Zora Neale Hurston.

I finished Project Hail Mary yesterday, and gave it the rare five stars at Goodreads. Usual disclaimer: that doesn’t mean it was the best darn book ever. It got more and more implausible as it went along. But I really liked the characters and needed to know what would happen next, and was thoroughly entertained. Recommended.

I started today on a book of short stories, Ray Bradbury’s Golden Apples of the Sun. I know many of these stories already and actually may own them in a different book, but what the heck. I’m pleased to revisit them. The first story, The Fog Horn, is one of my favorites.

Yeah, I agree about Wallander. I’ve read most of the books, and really liked them.

But The Man From Beijing wasn’t as enjoyable. The Brigitta character wasn’t as deep as Wallander, and the long discourses on the direction of the Chinese Communist Party held little interest for me.

Was getting burnt out on the 1632 series, having read 41 books since February, so I set the last two aside for a while. Instead:

Now reading: The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization, by Brian Fagan (reread)
Up next: Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation, by David A Price

Finished Jonah’s Gourd Vine , by Zora Neale Hurston. This was her first novel, and loosely based on her parents’ lives. Powerful and disturbing.

Now I’m reading Secret Lives of the Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World’s Musical Masters, by Elizabeth Lunday.

Just started Who is Maud Dixon?, debut novel by journalist Alexandra Andrews. It was recommended by a close friend, and it’s gotten some decent reviews.


I just started the first Murderbot book today, and it appears I am hooked! I’m not thrilled with the narrator for the audio book, he’s a little TOO unemotional android, but the rest is great.

Secret Lives of the Great Composers: What Your Teachers Never Told You About the World’s Musical Masters , by Elizabeth Lunday. I found it very interesting–it contains lots of historical anecdotes, which I really enjoy reading.

Now I’m reading Terns of Endearment, a cozy mystery by Donna Andrews.

Finished Terns of Endearment , a cozy mystery by Donna Andrews, which was okay.

Now I’m reading Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography, by Irina Yazykova, translated by Paul Grenier.

Winds of the Steppe: Walking the Great Silk Road from Central Asia to China Bernard Ollivier

A travelogue by a Frenchman who walks the Silk Road from Istanbul, Turkey to Xi’an, China. Considering that he is in his 60s, it’s quite impressive. This is actually the third book in a series, and covers the last section of his journey from Samarkand, Uzbekistan to Xi’an.

There are some sections about the history of the region he passes through, but it’s mostly about the people (welcoming and friendly in Central Asia, not so much in China) and the beautiful landscapes he encounters.

It’s rather strangely written. There is at least one explanation point per page, and lots of stream of consciousness digressions.

But I quite enjoyed it, and look forward to reading the other two books.

I took a break from the books I’ve been reading for research and just zipped through Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burrough (“Barbarians at the Gates”), Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford. It’s a history of the history of the Alamo – what really happened there, how the myths about it grew up, the way it’s been portrayed and displayed, and how it has become even more of a political football recently. The book is told in a jaunty, familiar style, with so many current references that it reads more like a magazine story than a book. Which is too bad, because this is a good history, and in only ten years’ time people aren’t going to understand the jokes and asides.
The gist of it is something I’m familiar with – the Texans were fighting for the “freedom” to keep slaves. They had built up an agricultural kingdom based on cotton, and they needed the slaves to work the fields. Their economy couldn’t exist without it. But Mexico was committed to anti-slavery. The Texans couldn’t give up slavery, so they had to give up Mexico.

I’m also blasting through Mark Edlitz’ The Lost Adventures of James Bond, which gives the details about Bond films never made, although thee are screen treatments and scripts. It concentrates on the next two Timothy Dalton films which weren’t made, in large part, because of the poor box office of Licence to Kill. There was a six year hiatus before Pierce Brosnan showed up as Bond in Goldeneye

I’ve also picked up a wonderful pair of CDs. One contains the first twenty volumes of the Catholic comic book Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, which had some excellent stuff in it. I learned about sports from their sports features (taught me how to ski before I ever saw a slope) and how to draw from Frank Borth’s “Learn to Draw” feature. And Borth created some excellent “kids’ adventure” stories. The other CD has EVERY SINGLE ISSUE OF CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED. There are plenty of them I haven’t read, and now I can. Not only are all the regular issues these, but also the Classics Illustrated Junior and the Special Issues. Actually, it doesn’t have all of them – the collection lacks the "World Around Us " series, and I would’ve preferred those to the Juniors. Still, a excellent set at a low price.

I finished Bradbury’s Golden Apples of the Sun. It wasn’t full of his best stories, but they were all beautifully written, of course.

Next up, Fugitive Telemetry, the most recent Murderbot book from Martha Wells. A known quantity.

Finished Hidden and Triumphant: The Underground Struggle to Save Russian Iconography, by Irina Yazykova, translated by Paul Grenier. It was quite interesting.

Now I’m reading Sun of Suns, by Karl Schroeder.

Just finished:

Smooth, very engaging, can’t put it down til finished read. Grisham is indeed America’s storyteller laureate.

A year of rags to riches NCAA college basketball and I hung on every word.

Excerpted here, in a magazine no less, and with a funny graphic: The Next Battle of the Alamo! – Texas Monthly